Why can’t we all just get along? Or, just follow the Golden Rule? This can be trickier than it sounds, even for highly sensitive people (HSPs). Why? Human nature, for one. Even people who care deeply about others are sometimes motivated by selfish or personal reasons. As human beings, we have a biological drive to survive and thrive, and that drive can encourage us to do things that are not in another person’s best interest. Secondly—and here’s the trickier part—how one person wants to be treated may be different than how another person wants to be treated. This can be true even among very sensitive, empathic souls. We all have different personalities, interests, values, desires, beliefs, needs and so on. Such variety adds much richness and diversity to life, but it also means that no two people are alike. Thus, each person can have different preferences when it comes to how they want to be treated.
Here’s where boundaries come in. In all relationships—whether with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, strangers—boundaries exist. The boundaries may be conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional. No matter how much or little thought goes into any particular interpersonal boundary, these boundaries guide our interactions. We teach people how to treat us, and they teach us how to treat them, either by what we do or by what we don’t do.
Even though boundaries play a critical role in relationships throughout our lives, we often don’t spend much time talking or thinking about boundaries, unless something goes wrong. (I certainly put zero thought into boundaries before I became a therapist!) However, I’ve come to see boundaries as essential building blocks in relationships. The happiest, healthiest relationships are constructed around clear boundaries, which allow both people to assert themselves, care for one another and get their own needs met. The latter can be so, so important for highly sensitive people who tend to prioritize others’ needs!
So, I invite us all to be proactive. It can be so much easier to make shifts and changes in any relationship when things aren’t already falling apart! Take some time to check-in with yourself and consider:
Taking Stock of Your Boundaries (for sensitive souls):
- What do I enjoy giving in relationships? Time? Emotional support? Small gifts? Advice? Other?
- How do I know what a comfortable amount of (time/emotional support/gifts/advice/chores, etc.) is for me to give?
- How do I feel in my body when I’m comfortable or satisfied with what I’m contributing to a relationship? (Example: muscles are relaxed, heart feels open and lightweight)
- What thoughts and urges do I have when I’m satisfied in my relationships?
- What do I not enjoy giving in relationships? What can become “too much” or be overwhelming for me in my relationships?
- How do I know when I’m crossing the line into contributing “too much” or feeling overwhelmed in a relationship?
- What cues does my body give me? (Example: feel anxious/panicky, like a weight is on my chest, muscles tight)
- What thoughts and urges do I have?
- In my childhood/when I was growing up, what did I learn about setting boundaries with other people? Do I want to carry on practicing what I learned, tweak what I learned or completely change it?
- How does my sensitivity impact the boundaries in my relationships?
- What is a positive mantra I can remind myself of if I’m feeling guilty or worried about setting or maintaining a boundary?
You can be kind, thoughtful, gentle AND firm in your boundary-setting. Not only is this okay, but it’s actually helpful. The more clear you are, the easier it is for the people you care about to know how to treat you, just like it’s helpful for you when you know what others need. Creating and holding boundaries helps build healthy, fulfilling relationships based on reciprocity and mutual respect. You deserve such vibrant relationships. So do the people in your life. Setting boundaries actually helps everyone.
Very best wishes,
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
Want more help with setting boundaries? Just reach out!